New Zealand is often referred to as the land of the “long white cloud” and during my two weeks of climbing I saw many variations of that long white cloud.
At times there was not a cloud in the sky, at other times there was white out conditions in the mountains due to violent storms. During my first week in the mountains we had a storm that raged for three days…
Winds were howling and gusting at up to 180 kilometres per hour.
The aim of my visit to New Zealand was to learn more of the craft of alpine mountaineering, and to attempt an ascent on Mt Aspiring, the Matterhorn of the South.
And whilst disappointed we had to turn back from the summit of Mt Aspiring due to deteriorating weather, the experience gained over the two weeks under the expert guidance of Richard Raynes and Steve Moffat from Adventure Consultants, was invaluable.
The focus now switches to my expedition to Nepal in November this year and whilst it is some months away there is little doubt that time will pass quickly…
So there’ll be plenty of long hikes with my backpack, something I relish, and of course climbing in my own back yard, the wonderful Blue Mountains.
I have just been looking at the climbing photos of the past of couple weeks over a cup of tea and here are some of my favourites…
It is said that summiting a mountain is optional and getting back down is mandatory.
And with this in my mind, with climbing partner, Richard Raynes, I headed off for my climb of Mt Aspiring in the pre-dawn hours of Monday 7 January.
Richard is an exceptionally experienced mountaineer and specializes in mountain rescues, so I was in extremely good hands. For me, this was a great opportunity to learn.
We had planned to climb on Thursday, however the weather was forecast to deteriorate over the week and our climbing window had narrowed significantly.
This was it…
I was feeling rather daunted as we headed off across the Bonar Glacier towards the “Matterhorn of the South” which was standing tall ahead of us.
The moon was rising over the mountain and as we climbed the steep snow and ice slope towards the rock buttress a thin golden line was appearing on the eastern horizon signalling the dawn of a new day.
I remember thinking this was the dawn of just more than the sun rising on a new day, but of a wonderful new world for me.
There were two other climbing parties of two ahead of us and we could see their headlamps bobbing up and down as they made their way.
The weather had been forecast to be better than we had earlier expected and according to the most up to date report we had received the previous evening. So far the report was proving accurate.
But as we climbed onto the exposed side of the mountain and climbed up through the rock formation, called The Buttress, the weather started to turn. We had made it through the most technical section of the climb, and now had a long slog up the steep snow and ice towards the summit.
We could see the summit and the winds were roaring over it at least 100 kilometres an hour and the cloud was now starting to obscure the top.
The groups ahead had turned back by now and as we made our way back down through the rock buttress, abseiling our way back to the snow, we were being buffeted by sleet and strong winds.
It was not to be our day on the summit…
But that is not to say it wasn’t a great experience. Of course our goal was to make it to the top, but above all else, I was here to learn the craft and skills necessary to become a competent mountaineer.
Perhaps the mountain understood this and she gave me an experience that provided a great learning opportunity, so it is hard to be disappointed…
It is now one month from my next mountaineering experience in New Zealand, an ascent of Mt Aspiring in the Southern Alps and the excitement level in our household is reaching fever pitch.
The trip is significant as it kicks-off a big year and hopefully some big steps towards that audaciously big goal I have to climb some of the world’s largest mountains, including Mt Everest.
My last trip to New Zealand was in September this year when I spent time with the team from Adventure Consultants on Pioneer Glacier, in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.
That trip was a true eye opener as to what lies ahead.
Mt Aspiring is known to the Maori people of New Zealand as Tititea, the glistening one, rising 3,027 metres out of the landscape to tower over anything nearby.
It is described as having sheer faces and graceful lines.
We will travel from the headquarters of Adventure Consultants in Wanaka to Bonar Glacier by helicopter as it is usually a 12-14 hour walk otherwise. We then have a 2-3 hour walk on the glacier to reach our destination, Colin Todd hut. And depending on how many people are at the hut we may need to camp out in our bivvy bags on Bevan Col.
The first couple of days will be spent acclimatising and revising cramponing skills, ascending steep snow and ice, and of course, importantly, crevasse rescue. I have spent a lot of time on rescues in the Blue Mountains in recent times and I have a strong belief that you can’t do enough of it – it may save your own, or someone else’s life and the skill needs to be second nature.
Prior to an attempt on the summit of Mt Aspiring we will spend a day climbing some smaller peaks in the area, such as Mt Bevan. It stands at 2,030 metres and they say the view from the top is glorious. It was also the scene of a rescue of a number of people trapped on Bevan Col and recounted in the book by Paul Powell, Men Aspiring.
There is something like 27 different routes that can be taken to the summit of Mt Aspiring all of varying degrees of difficulty. Many of these routes will not be available to us due to the time of year we are attempting it.
We are anticipating our route to the summit will be the classic North West Ridge route, but a final decision will be made at the time.
Ascent day will begin at 3am in the morning and may finish as late as 7pm that evening and we can expect a mixture of snow, ice, and rock as we progress towards the summit.
After spending 7-days on the glacier, and hopefully with a successful summit of Mt Aspiring under the belt, we will return to Wanaka where I’ll be joined by Janet and TomO for a few days of rest and relaxation, before once again heading into the mountains.
The second week in the mountains will most likely be spent in the Mt Cook region, where we will concentrate on some ice climbing as well as a number of ascents over the course of the week. The structure of the week will be decided at the time and where we climb will be dictated to by the prevailing conditions.
There are a number of possibilities, including Mt Aylmer which stands at 2,699 metres, Mt Elie de Beaumont which gives commanding views of the Tasman Sea from its 3,109 metre summit. Other likely climbs include Mt Green and Mt Walter, which both stand just under 3,000 metres.
After making our way back to Wanaka once again, I will be meeting up with Janet and TomO who will also be full of tales of adventure after their week travelling around in the Southern Alps. They are planning a helicopter trip to Fox Glacier as well as taking in the fabulous Southern Alps…
Before we leave for home, we will strap ourselves in the world’s largest canyon swinglocated near Queenstown. TomO can’t wait, and he’ll go twice he says, a tandem with both Janet and myself.
I am hoping to achieve as many summits as possible on this trip, especially Mt Aspiring, however there could be many reasons why a summit is not possible. Above all else, what I am looking to achieve is safe mountaineering as that is what will assist me the most as I head to Nepal at the end of 2013 – but that is a story for another time, for now it is simply, one step at a time!
And remember, if all else fails, remain out of control and see what develops…